Vet graduates leave in droves
There is a severe shortage of veterinarians, with new graduates leaving the country in droves to take up more lucrative positions overseas.
Crime is one reason they cite for leaving, but also a need to make money to pay off the hefty student loans they need for the seven-year degree.
In rural areas the shortage is so severe that in some cases people are often forced to travel more than 100km to take an animal to a vet.
The Department of Agriculture is planning to introduce a year of compulsory community service for graduating vets.
Spokesperson Priscilla Tsotso Sehoole said initially only one year's service was being considered because of the unavailability of suitable accommodation in rural areas.
A vet who qualified four years ago said about 90 percent of the students in her year had gone overseas to work, mostly to Britain, where they could expect to earn £200 (about R3 000) a day.
She said salaries in South Africa were very low compared to other countries. New graduates can expect to earn about R13 000 a month, a figure which did not increase substantially over the years.
"To survive you need to have your own practice but that comes with a lot of stress."
The Karoo Animal Protection Society (KAPS) operates its mobile welfare service for animals in deprived areas of the Little Karoo over an area spanning about 5 000 square kilometres, where there are just two vets. KAPS chairperson Colette Teale said 10 of the towns the society covers have no vets.
Teale said sometimes they had to get the police to shoot animals in distress if the wait for a vet was too long.
"The police had to shoot a donkey recently that was in an accident, but they don't always know where to shoot to kill the animal humanely, and can end up causing more suffering."
The organisation recently had to cough up R15 000 for a captive bolt pistol to put animals out of their misery if they couldn't get to a vet in time.
Rebone Moerane, president of the SA Veterinary Council, said some of the reasons for the shortage of veterinarians were competition between various science institutions for the few mathematics and science pupils at high schools, and a lack of awareness in the rural areas, particularly in black communities.
The difference in salary between an engineer or medical professional compared with a veterinarian, and the competition with other countries, also played a part.
Professor Gerry Swan, dean of the faculty of veterinary science at the University of Pretoria, said the faculty had great difficulty in recruiting and retaining veterinarians in academia. It had particular difficulty retaining vets with specialist training.
The assistant registrar of the SA Veterinary Council, Lynette Havinga, said the council was investigating a model for Primary Animal Health Care in which a team of animal health professionals would provide services, in particular to rural communities which were geographically isolated from the rest of the country and which were not receiving services.
The Bachelor of Veterinary Science at Onderstepoort is the only prescribed qualification in South Africa accepted for automatic registration as a veterinarian.
The cost of the seven-year course is about R135 000 plus nearly R80 000 for hostel accommodation.
Swan said the two-degree structure, which includes a three-year Bachelor of Science Veterinary Biology degree, plus a four-year Bachelor of Veterinary Science degree, was being reviewed to a shorter single-degree structure.
Swan said an average of 81,7 vets had graduated a year since 1999 but that number had increased to 135 in 2004. There are very few black veterinarians, with only seven on average graduating a year since 1999.